BUFORD — Stuart Chester knows a thing or two, or three, about baseball. Chester is one of the all-time winningest coaches in Georgia sitting at 563 wins, and he hopes counting.
So, it was compelling to hear his take on when he felt his current Buford squad transitioned from just another good team to one that could challenge for a state title.
“Probably that second loss (8-1) to Loganville,” Chester said late last week as the Wolves prepared to take on the same Loganville squad Monday for the Class 5A championship at the University of Georgia’s Foley Field.
“We were down just 2-1 late and had the bases loaded but didn’t score because we didn’t execute the little things to make that happen. (Loganville) scored six runs the next inning and that was the ballgame. That loss, probably more than anything else, has helped us get to this point. This team has learned better how to do the little things it needs to win.”
The pair of Region 8-5A foes will meet for at least the third and fourth times on Monday in a 5 p.m. doubleheader in the opening day of a best-of-three series. Game 3, if the two teams split, will be at 5 p.m. on Wednesday at Foley Field.
The minutest of details may decide it as both teams feature outstanding pitching, solid defense, and more than enough timely hitting.
Buford (28-11) is likely to throw Ramsey David and Sean Adams in the first two games and the pair has helped the Wolves sweep through their first four rounds yielding just 12 runs total (1.5 runs per game). Behind Noah Ledford, Brandon Jolliff, Austin Turner, and twins Garrison and Griffin Price, the offense had pounded out 56 runs (7.0 runs per game) during the playoffs.
Loganville (33-6) also swept through its first four playoff opponents allowing just nine runs (1.1 rpg) behind the pitching of Joseph Brandon, Bay Witcher, and Seth Clark and is working on a 20-game win streak. The Red Devils have surrendered a classification-low 62 runs (1.59 rpg) on the season and their last loss came against Flowery Branch (2-1 on March 23). They swept Buford during the regular season 4-2 and 8-1.
All of this makes Chester, who won titles in 2003, ‘08, ‘09, ‘13 at Cartersville, understand the value of minutiae. The Wolves’ nail-biting series sweep of another Region 8-5A Flowery Branch (3-2 and 1-0) in the semifinals was decided by sweating the small stuff. They won the first game on a pair of bases loaded walks in the bottom of the seventh inning and then used some outstanding defense behind Adams in the second game to hold off the Falcons.
“We were patient at the plate when we needed to be and except for one bad defensive play in the first game we made all the plays plus a couple of great plays in the field in the second game,” Chester said. “I expect this series to be a lot like that one. We will have to be at better than our best to beat Loganville.”
The Red Devils have been a thorn in the side of the Wolves in their two years in the same region. Buford has lost the last three head-to-head meetings and Loganville is the defending Class 5A champion with a wealth of experience back.
This will be the first time many on the Buford roster has had the opportunity to play for a title. The Wolves lost to Locust Grove in the Class 4A championship series in 2016 but only senior first baseman Noah Ledford saw any significant action that season on the current roster.
“(Loganville) has the experience factor for sure since most of that team was back this year,” Chester said. “They are even better this year and they definitely know how to win. But I know from experience as a coach, it’s harder to defend a title than to win one.
“This group is hungry to win and that can be a big motivator. The way we are playing right now, I really feel like it’s a toss-up series. They handled us pretty good in the first two games but I think our group has really improved a lot since that last game.”
Win or lose for the Wolves, however, Chester is already calling this season one of his most satisfying, on and off the field.
“I’ve been doing this a long time. It has been very gratifying to see the success we’ve had this year,” he said. “Really I’m more happy for the kids. There were a lot of new things for them to have to adjust too having a new coach for the first time.
“I just tried to come in here and build on what Coach (Tony) Wolfe had established here. Tony has been very supportive of all the changes and I think that is a testament to the kind of person he is and the dedication he and all the people at Buford have in wanting excellence in all their programs.
“But the most special thing is that the seniors opened their arms and accepted us and what we trying to teach. They are a special group and we wouldn’t be here without them.”
NOTES: The teams have six state titles combined, with each winning three, and five of those coming since 2008. ... Buford won titles in 2015 (Class 4A), 2011 (Class 2A) and 1977 (Class B). The Wolves also have lost in three state finals, the most recent coming that 2016 series against Locust Grove. ... Loganville won titles in 2017 (Class 5A) and in Class 4A in 2008 and 2012. ... It is the first time the two programs have ever met in the playoffs.